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The Talyllyn in trouble ?

Discussion in 'Narrow Gauge Railways' started by Baldwin, Jan 11, 2013.

  1. Baldwin

    Baldwin Guest

  2. Baldwin

    Baldwin Guest

  3. Hampshire Unit

    Hampshire Unit Member Friend

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    A great pity. I visited last year and in my youth went most years for about 8 or 9 years. The attraction to me is that the railway is still pretty basic, and every station has some lovely walks through varying countryside. I sued to get excited by the red kites too, until the last few years when they have spread to my home town! Admittedly Tywyn itself is not the most fantastic place, a few years back I stayed at Cynfal farm b and b ( now replaced by self catering units I believe) which has its own halt on the TR! I remember watching from the room as a PW train hauled by Dolgoch went by.
     
  4. david1984

    david1984 Well-Known Member

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    I think Tywyn not being the most attractive place is a large factor in it, a lot of people want a destination to go with a train ride, and apart from walks if your into that, there isn't a great deal up the Nant Gwernol end of the line, nor much potential for there to be.

    I don't know who does the council round there, but they really need to invest in and promote more tourism around the Tywyn area as presently it's lagging behind the like of Porthmadog, Barmouth, Aberyswyth, apart from the Talyllyn, I cant can't name another attraction in Tywyn.

    Whatever the reasons, everything possible has to be done to keep the line going, it's not an ill thought out new preservation scheme, the Talyllyn was the first and holds a special place for that reason alone, regardless of the (in)practicalities.
     
  5. 6024KEI

    6024KEI Member

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    In some senses the problem it faces now is the same as the reason it was saved in the first place - its tucked away so well that most people never go near it. That saved it from the roving/closing eye of the Ministry but now is making it hard to keep the bigger operation that built up over the years (probably peaking in the 1980's) viable. If you know the area its a lovely place to be, but its also a real pain in the backside to get to from anywhere. The old days of the train holidays to Barmouth and Fairbourne have long gone (and the results can be seen in both those places with the run down former hotels etc) and with them the parties taking a quick trip down the coast to Tywyn (where you'd really not find much other reason to spend more than a day!).

    I've got friends running a holiday centre near Fairbourne and they've had to inovate to keep going as old markets have died off. Time past they would run a coach that would alternate between going North for the FR (and other attractions like Harlech Castle) one week, and go South to Tywyn etc which would normally mean 30 or so people on the train (albeit presumably at party rates). That stopped by the end of the 1980's. The one really decent hotel in the area at Aberdovey isn't really suited to coach parties, and with little else in the Tywyn area to link into a coach trip (which tend to do a few attractions in a day to balance differing interests) its very much off the beaten track. The whole economy is stagnant - every so often I have a nose at what is for sale in the area on Rightmove, and I know one property near where I used to work has been on the market solidly for years (i.e not being sold and back on the market) and I'm sure a couple of others are.

    Its going to be down to a combination of enthusiast support and cutting its cloth (i.e lower activity levels) to the current realities to keep it alive. Hopefully a less disastrous summer this year will tempt people back. As things stand we're planning to go up that way in 2014 (need the kids to be old enough for outdoor activities) and its definitely on the list to visit.
     
  6. paulhitch

    paulhitch Part of the furniture

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    I suppose the T.R. developed an infrastructure to deal with 180,000 journeys per annum but, despite getting around one third of that now, still has have the same infrastructure to support. It might be a golden opportunity to satisfy the "it's all got too complicated" brigade by a bit of judicious simplification, e.g. by cutting out the prolonged Abergynolwyn stop and having one engine less in steam as a consequence. 56,000 journeys per annum is a respectable enough figure and with no Golfa incline or Beddgelert Forest type gradients to cope with it ought to be possible to meet outgoings on this level of business.

    As someone who has been cranking on for ages that heritage railways are not cost conscious enough and forecasting that a major crisis would happen somewhere or other, the T.R. is the last place I would want it to happen. Good luck with sorting it out!

    Paul H.
     
  7. Orion

    Orion New Member

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    I have got into the habit of spending a week in North Wales early August and always pay a visit to the Talyllyn. It was clear this year that passenger numbers were down but then it was an exceptionally wet summer and I actually left the railway earlier than I otherwise might have done because of the rain.

    I don't accept the argument put forward earlier that the railway is difficult to access by road, in fact it is just a few miles off the main Welshpool-Dolgellau road and can also be accessed by the coast road as well.

    It may well be that the railway has been affected by the WHR, it is difficult to be sure, but I didn't go to that railway this year, purely because I've come to the view that is very much a 'manufactured' railway, it just doesn't look right and doesn't feel right either.

    I think there is a limit there is a limit to how much development can be put into the Welsh narrow gauge railways; the Taly and the Ffestiniog have been developed sympathetically, the WHR is just not right. I appreciate that this may well be a controversial view, but it's the one I have. I think I would also argue against the view that Porthmadog is a good destination. There really isn't anything there but the railway! The same is true of Tywyn, but take away the railways and both towns will fade away. The virtue that Porthmadog has is that it is surrounded by an area that has been reasonably well developed by the tourist industry, but this isn't true of Tywyn.

    By way of a digression, I went to Caernarvon one wet evening and was amazed and disappointed just how many businesses had closed in the town. This slump is really hitting Wales hard.

    Like 'paulhitch' I really didn't think that a crisis of this sort would hit the Talyllyn, perhaps NP people should make a New Years resolution to make at least one visit to Tywyn this year.

    Regards
     
  8. paulhitch

    paulhitch Part of the furniture

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    Not quite what I said which was that the T.R. was the last place I would want it to happen to. Alas, I am not surprised that it has. This is due to the fact that the scale of operations has continued much the same in the decades I have known it, whilst the traffic has gradually ebbed away. No business can continue in this way indefinitely. However a somewhat "leaner" T.R. ought to be viable with the level of traffic it has.

    It is no consolation to the T.R. that their situation may bring about a much needed dash of realism in heritage railway operations generally.

    Paul H.
     
  9. 6024KEI

    6024KEI Member

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    It might be just off the Welshpool to Dolgellau road, but unless you are already in the southern Snowdonia area (Mach, Dolgellau, Barmouth etc) its a hell of a long way on windy roads from any big settlements. Its around 150 miles from where I live and I've never done the trip in less than 4 hours - by comparison I regularly go to Plymouth which is a similar distance and can be done in 2 and half hours. From England you've a long haul in via Welshpool etc on a very scenic but also often very slow road or you can come up the A470 but again that is old slow roads. Don't get me wrong I love the area but I have to admit there have been a fair few weekends etc when we haven't been up because facing the trip puts us off.

    Its compounded by the lack of anything else much in the area to draw people in - you've got the wierd alternative technology place round near Corris, the Gold mines at Dolgellau and Cadair Idris and that's about it. I wonder whether the lack of the steam service on the Cambrian also contributed to less enthusiasts spending a few days based in Machynlleth and having one of them on the TR. The area in general needs more to draw people in in terms of wet weather attractions.
     
  10. michaelh

    michaelh Well-Known Member

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    Paul is right - the TR's peak year was 1973 with 110k passengers (not journeys where returns count as 2) - it's been trending downwards ever since with a blip upwards in the early 1980's. In 2012 it was c38k

    The infrastructure has stayed much the same though and indeed has expanded - the operating period has extended and the railway is now saddled with the costs of the great white elephant that is the rebuilt Wharf Station.

    Last year a coach was re-bodied at Boston Lodge at a reported cost of £40k - one wonders if that was necessary, given that most of the trains are (at best) half empty.
     
  11. Baldwin

    Baldwin Guest

    I agree with most of this, the opinion of the WHR as "manufactured" and "does not look right and feel right" is the same as mine, having said that, when the Talyllyn rebuilt the station in Tywyn it also lost part of it's charm and i wonder with the extension of the platform at Porthmadog if the FR/WHR is going down the same road. It's very hard to modernise and keep up with the times and at the same time keeping the character of a railway such as these. Time will tell.
     
  12. Tim Hall

    Tim Hall New Member

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    The Talyllyn was where I first rode behind a steam loco, Sir Haydn, Easter 1973. So I've got a strong attachment to the line for that reason, and the historical aspect. (I hope to celebrate this anniversary this spring :)) It is somewhat remote for many of us, and even from here in Cardiff it's at least 3 hours, which makes a day trip unattractive. As has been mentioned, there aren't many wet weather options for families with small kids (although Machinations in Llanbrynmair on the A470 is an excellent tea stop en route). Perhaps more innovative marketing might help (don't ask me what, I'm useless at stuff like that).
    A problem for them in attracting a section of the enthusiast market is the unusual gauge. Apart from the obvious Corris link, there's nothing else. Even when the new Corris loco visited a couple of years ago, didn't it just do a couple of trips with short trains? I seem to remember looking at the timetable for its visit, and deciding that it wasn't worth the effort. If it had been running rostered trains all day or all weekend I probably would have visited.
    I really hope the railway can overcome its current problems. The preservation movement would be very different (or non existant) if Dolgoch had failed catastrophically all those years ago.
     
  13. lostlogin

    lostlogin New Member

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    I doubt this made made much of a didfference as I think the majority of the decline last year was pre August. You could argure that was a consequence of the Olympics/weather and many railways were hit similarly last year. Obviously the economy does not help generally and the Area is not a fashionable place to go althought Aberdovey does OK with the yachting set. The decline of the Corbett Hotel also does not help and if that was ever restored and run propally it would probably see an increase in passengers, especially coach traffic.

    Hopefully the weather will be better this year and there are no Olympics so all railways will be less effected, however I presume the TR are taking the view that they have to budget that is not the case. I might have taken a slightly more optomistic view.

    Part of the charm of the TR to me is that it is not that commercial, and away from Wharf it is still a trundle up a line not much different from what you might experienced 50 years or more ago, especially the case outside peak. Very similar trains, same sort of pace, stations not much changed. However that is possibly also a disadvantage as many railways are supported by another profit centre. FR has FR Travel, outside enginneering and a profitable bar. Many railwys have one or more have the latter two. The TR has a shop and a cafe but they are not really run to maximise return.

    It should also be remembered that unlike many standard gauge railways, the TR, like most Welsh Narrow Gauge railways own all their own locos and whilst they might run appeals for major repairs they do not have owners groups who are continually fundraisng and supporting their both fininacially and with time and effort.

    I am sure the TR will survive, it will just be in a much leaner form. It is used to opertaing a reasonably intense service at times, having many of the toys available to play with. Certainly more than at times passenger numbers might require but this is again back to it being not that commercial an organisation and the fact that the number of trains and locos operatating is partly to meet passenger demand but also to give the operating volunteers more opportunities and a more interesting time.
     
  14. lostlogin

    lostlogin New Member

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    There is also the fact that it is narrow gauge. I was astounded a few years ago when talking to a group at Llangelynnin who had probably travelled 2hrs+ to chase the Cambrian Coast Express that they were just going to go straight home. It was a beautiful day. 4 miles from Fairbourne, 6 miles from the Tywyn, 40 minutes drive at most to the FR or WHR, they would have to drive past the TR and probably W&LLR to get home I had presumed they might hang around for the return and take in some of the Welsh Narrow gauge. The response I got was they were only interested in standard gauge and that narrow gauge were basically just toys. Although the WHR is not a favourite of mine I did point out that a Garratt steam loco was probably working much harder than say a pacific pulling 8 coaches on a 10 mile 25mph run on a preserved line but they just had no interest what so ever.
     
  15. GeoffH

    GeoffH New Member

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    But Enthusiasts don't pay the bills. Tourists do.

    Enthusiasts want
    Authentic carrages
    gradients
    variety of traction

    Tourists want
    comfortable CLEAN seats
    a buffet service
    good views
    CLEAN platforms
    CLEAN engines
    CLEAN stations

    The FR & WHR know this. Thats why as soon as the train stops at Port, it's attacked by about 3 or 4 cleaners, and runs a fleet of modern comfortable passenger stock,
     
  16. mickpop

    mickpop Part of the furniture

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    I think several posts on this thread identify that it is not one factor, or even one over which the Talyllyn has any control, that has caused a downturn in business. I have an interest on the tourist industry in North Wales as I let a couple of holiday cottages near Portmadog. There is no doubt that the weather and the Olympics had an effect last year- various comments in my visitors books confirm this. The continuation of the rain into the winter months and the forecast cold spell seem to have dampened down business for the coming year as this is usually a busy time for enquiries.

    The general economic gloom is also a factor. High fuel costs are likely to weigh heavily on the day tripper market from the Merseyside, Manchester and West Midlands conurbations. It costs me £30+ in fuel to travel from just across the border to Porthmadog. Also the roads are not brilliant so it can be a long journey, especially with kids in the car! The Welsh economy also seems to have suffered worse than some other areas in the current stagnation. Many towns look depressed with boarded up shops etc and little investment in infrastructure, Caernarfon has already been mentioned. The tourist industry, along with agriculture, are really all the north west and west regions of Wales depend on and because of the climate many jobs are seasonal and go to students, overseas workers etc this has a knock on effect on the housing and retail markets. The economic conditions must also have an effect on the availability of volunteer labour on the preserved railways.

    Many holidaymakers are from the budget sector of the market - static and tourer caravans, camping etc- and they are also the most likely to have to take a tighter hold on purse-strings where their holidays are concerned. My costs have risen due to rises in insurance, electricty and oil, cleaners wages etc and I have to pass some of this on in terms of higher rental charges. Some people are choosing to pay similar or less prices for guaranteed sun on the continent.

    While the Welsh Assembley do their best to encourage the tourist industry some nationalist elements seem hell bent on resisting any change. I restored a 'Listed' building that had lain derelict for 30 years for use as a holiday rental [not a second home] but found the locals raised a petition against planning permission basically because they did not want more English people in the area as it would 'undermine their linguistic tradition'.

    The preserved railways cannot depend solely on the support of enthusiasts and I'm not sure the adding of more choices, such as the Penrhyn, is goingto help as the market for enthusiast is spread thinner. For some general tourists the fares are now too high and they may choose cheaper attractions. When in their infancy the 'Little Trains' depended more on volunteer labour and were more of a 'cottage industry' and that was part of the charm, maintaining full time staff and upgrading adds more fixed costs and that makes them vulnerable to market conditions. I can't suggest any miracle solutions as the problem is not of the railways' making. Cutting costs and marketing innovations[joint ventures/Rover tickets maybe] may help but an upturn in the economy is the only certain remedy.
     
  17. Meiriongwril

    Meiriongwril Member

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    An online donation button on the TR website, and the ability to join TRPS online with Paypal or similar might help a little. The fact that they expect you to print off forms and mail them shows that at least the fundraising has yet to reach the 21st century...
    This may seem a small point but I regularly hit the donation buttons for the L&B and the Corris (my two favourites) with fairly substantial amounts - I wouldn't do that with mail-in forms!
    That being said, I have done my bit for the TR by mailing in a life membership - I only hope the combined efforts of the USPS and Royal Mail will actually get my form to the right place!!
     
  18. Baldwin

    Baldwin Guest

    ....At the end of the day isn't there just too much Narrow Gauge in North Wales ?
     
  19. AndrewT

    AndrewT New Member

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    The Talyllyn isn't in North Wales.
     
  20. Baldwin

    Baldwin Guest

    ...In anycase the question of too much Narrow Gauge in the region still applies.
     

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